One of the most fascinating books of magical lore to survive from antiquity is a Latin work, “The book of Damigeron, the most wise, On Stones”. However, this is less one book than a compilation of books. It is introduced by two letters from obscure sages, one named Evax and the other anonymous (perhaps this is meant to be Damigeron). These letters are followed by two texts on astrological amulets. After that comes the main corpus – a series of chapters which list various uses for a given stone or gem – which exists in various redactions.
On this page, we give the introductory letters and the astrological section in a translation by Ɔ. Martiana (Unhistorize). Here, we are given instructions on how to create protective amulets or ‘phylacteries’ using gems and engravings. From other sources, we know that the gems were often (but not always) worn on rings and that they were understood to function as miniaturized cult statues – which explains the prominence of gods’ images among the engravings. Since the stones in question can sometimes not be identified, it should also be noted that archeological research has shown that ancient engravers were not very particular about the kinds of stones to be used, and were primarily concerned that they should have the right color, appropriate to the planet or god the engraving is consecrated to.
This letter must have been the introduction to a text that has now been lost, since it promises information not contained in the Damigeron–Evax corpus, namely a powerful name of the Sun. Happily, many parallel sources, from a Greco-Egyptian priestly background like this letter, are extant in the so-called Greek Magical Papyri.
Since you asked me to write about the mysteries of all stones which humankind, through its own wisdom, has observed to be of assistance, I did not deny your request.
Therefore, guard this mystery of the highest most exalted god(1) with the greatet diligence. For you shall not give this mystery to other learned Egyptians, nor to foreigners, nor to anyone else – lest Egypt decline to the point of barrenness in this science, lest these (books) might be cast into the fire by someone and burn, lest by open offence, all those who lord over the Egyptians become cruel towards Egypt.
This has not been transmitted to others, nor do any others have it in their power or keep it in perpetual protection. I swear to you by the greatest father, the lord, that Egypt does not have a better book than this. And the highest god is the witness to this oath. For I shall transmit the good name of the Sun to you, by (knowledge of?) which a good descent is recognized. Therefore, it shall be forever protected by you; for it is a great help in many actions through the respective hieratika,(2) as the Greeks call them, of all stones.
- This language of a ‘highest god’ may be influenced by Judaism, but is not to be misunderstood as
- Priestly matters, i.e. rituals?
A Letter from King Evax to Emperor Tiberius
This letter may have been the original introduction to the Damigeron–Evax main corpus.
Evax king of Arabia to emperor Tiberius, greetings.
I received your magnificent presents from the centurio named Lucinius Fronto, whom you gave the honor to bring them to me. In return, I have sent you something more valuable: every report from across the Eastern parts of the earth about all stones of healing.
On Stones, Their Kinds and Their Engravings
Although divided into two sections with their own headings, this is one text. It assigns one kind of stone to each planet and to (one of) their respective zodiac signs. The engravings use Greco-Egyptian motifs.
On Stones and their Kinds
The stones pertaining to the seven signs. Given below are the seven stones which people must have as phylacteries (‘protective amulets’) for the sake of healing. For they are salutary and powerful.
The first is the stone called chrysolith, belonging to Leo (and the Sun).
The second is the stone called aphroselēnos (selenite), belonging to Cancer (and the Moon).
The third is the stone called hematite, belonging to Aries (and Mars).
The fourth is the stone called keraunios (heliotrope?), belonging to Sagittarius (and Jupiter).
The fifth is the stone called mēdos (identification unclear), belonging to Taurus (and Venus).
The sixth is the stone called arabicus (identification unclear), belonging to Virgo (and Mercury).
The seventh is the stone called ostracitis (hornfels?), belonging to Capricorn (and Saturn).
You must seek these so that, through the whole time of your life, you may be under divine protection and so you will forever be healthy and safe.
(4) On their Engravings
Given below are the engravings of each one of them, which are phylacteries of the whole body, so that you may protect (yourself).
The stone chrysolith is engraved with a scarab with rays, which in Greek is called kantharos (dung beetle).
The stone aphroselēnos (selenite) is engraved with that one (Isis? Moon?) having horns of cattle.
The stone hematite. You engrave [the description is lost].
The stone keraunios. You engrave a hairy she-goat.
The stone mēdos. You engrave Venus.
The stone arabicus. You engrave a baboon (the animal of Thoth-Mercury).
The stone ostracitis. You engrave a person with the head of a crocodile and write on the side on the hips: [the text to be written is lost].
And if you want to have a phylactery for your body and soul, consult with an astrologer so that you see which angel, i.e., which zodiac sign (ruled) the hour in which you were born. Look that you use the engraved stone of this angel, and you will have a phylactery forever. (Create it?) when the moon is in conjunction with the angel, i.e., when it is in the zodiac sign. But it is better if you have a stone engraved with the Lord, your creator.(1)
- I take this last sentence as a Christian addition, but there may be different explanations for domino genitori tuo.
On Stones and Their Engravings,
According to the Septizonium
This text is fundamentally similar to the previous one, but distinguishes motifs according to the social status of the use. Ingenui are the freeborn or noble, liberti freed slaves and libertini their descendants (I translate both as ‘freed’), servi slaves. Such distinctions are commonly made in Roman law, but it is unlikely that they were commonly observed by makers of talismans. The motifs are non-Egyptian. “Protection” translates tutela, which means something protected and ruled over by a given god.
On Stones and Their Engravings, As Above, According to the Septizonium
Agate. Protection of Saturn.
The free must use an agate with (an engraving of) Ops sitting.
Freed: [unintelligible] agate; Fides Publica (the goddess ‘Civic Faithfulness’).
Unfree: agate; a sleeping lion.
Heliotrope. Protection of Sol.
Free: heliotrope; the glowing sun/Sol.
The freed and their descendants: the head of Sol.
Unfree: an altar and a burning torch above it.
Chrysolith. Protection of Moon.
Free: Luna sitting.
Freed: Luna with bovine [horns].
Unfree: Luna’s horns.
Sard. Protection of Mars.
Free: Mars carrying a trophy of victory.
Freed: Mars carrying weapons.
Unfree: the weapons of Mars.
Hematite. Protection of Mercury.
Free: Mercury sitting on a rock.
[The rest is unintelligible]
Green-colored stone. Protection of Jupiter.
Free: Jupiter sitting (on?) an eagle.
Freed: an eagle standing above a river.
Unfree: an eagle holding a crown in its claws.
Egyptilla (identification uncertain). Protection of Venus.
Free: Venus Victrix (‘the victorious’).
Freed: Venus [the rest is unintelligible].
Unfree: a dove above a standing (person? Venus?).